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Calling Mr. Colbert | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Calling Mr. Colbert

We've got a new Think Again column called "Sotomayor and SCOTUS,Captured on a Carousel of Time" about the punditocracy confirmationhearings here.

And I did a post for The Daily Beast on the recent metzora-making of Joe"The Volcano" Lieberman here.

Now this...

An Open Letter from "Altercation" to Stephen Colbert:

Dear Mr. Colbert,

I hope you and your staff are having a nice time yukking it up inBaghdad. I really enjoyed tiny portions of your Newsweek issue.Actually, it was all downhill from the letters page. Actually, it wasall downhill from the first letter on the letters page. After that funny one, I came acrossthis one:

Dear NEWSWEEK, I never thought this kind of thing would happen to me. Iwas at the library making last-minute edits to The Dartmouth Review whenMiss Shimock, the young librarian, walked up to my table wearing nothingbut a copy of Atlas Shrugged. She made a strong case that it was in myrational self-interest to take off my pants...Wait, I think I'mwriting this letter to the wrong magazine.

Stephen Colbert, Hanover, N.H.
Sept. 18, 1984

Hey, buddy, you know I love you, but you (and whoever wrote this letter)also know that this is a total ripoff of a letter that appeared in theHarvard Lampoon parody of Newsweek in approximately 1982, if mymarijuana-addled memory serves. Back then, in a letter entitled"Newsweek Forum," the junior at the small Midwestern university wasstudying alone in his room, when hearing a knock on the door, and whoshould appear but UN Permanent Representative Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick. Itwent something like this: "After briefly discussing totalitarian vs.authoritarian regimes and agreeing that the former were so much morehorrible than the latter, Jeanne said she'd be more comfortable sittingon my lap."

I will refrain from making the obvious aesthetic comparison, but if youwere plagiarizing yourself, twenty seven years after the fact, wellthen, buddy I salute you. If someone on your staff did it, well, I havea nephew graduating college who needs a job...

Alter-review: Booker T at Joe's Pub last night by Eric

If you were me, and lived in the Greatest City in the World, then lastnight you had a choice between getting your sorry self out to Jersey foran expensive opportunity to see Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood inJersey--even though you saw pretty much the same show at the Garden lastyear, also expensive, and recently saw Clapton with the Allman Brothersfrom like, the second row, two nights in a row at the Beacon, or ElvisCostello also at said Beacon, which is lovely, beautifully redone, andwalkable to boot, or, the dark horse third choice, take a couple ofsubways downtown to see Booker T and his band at Joe's Pub which is alsolovely and tiny and has wonderful soft couches.

I picked the latter, as you may have guessed, based on the fact thatClapton/Winwood would be a rerun, cost a fortune, and has been capturedon Blu-Ray, which is fantastic, and I've seen Elvis more times than I cancount, but I've never seen Booker T. Like Sal, I love the new albumPotato Hole, and I also loved the lengthy interview he did recently withTerry Gross, (whom I have also come to love of late).

It was a great choice. He did not have Neil Young and the DBTs as hisband, but the music was wonderful, and the dignity and bearing andeloquence of the man who founded Booker T and the MGs when he wasseventeen was downright inspiring. I loved the way he gave us thehistorical, psychological and musical backgrounds of the songs theyplayed and loved, loved, loved the lengthy version they did of "Time isTight" which kicks "Green Onions's" proverbial posterior any day of theweek. As a historian, I felt I had a more complete understanding of thedevelopment of the Memphis Stax/Volt sound and of the man who as much asanyone, was responsible for creating it. Plus it was just a lot of fun.Get the album. Trust me. Listen here.

The mail:

Name: Michael Bartley
Hometown: Fort Collins, CO

I would add Mattie Ross to Pierce's list of great child narrators.True Grit, the novel not the movie, by Charles Portis remainscriminally under-appreciated due, I suppose, to the dukification ofthe film. John Wayne's Rooster simply overwhelms every character.Give your head a couple of hard shakes to remove his big blusteryimage from you brain pan and dig into a novel that is a subtlewonder. Mattie Ross is one of the great characters of Americanliterature. This is a book that belongs in our schools alongside Tomand Huck and Scout.

Name: Jeff Stivers
Hometown: Richmond, CA

Not to step into the whole California budget/bond mess, but...

Our problem stems from the infamous Prop 13, which did two things*,one of which was to require a 2/3 legislative majority to raise (orinitiate) any tax at both the state and local levels. This waspassed in 1978.

You can just imagine how far out of sync our revenues are with ourcurrent fiscal needs by now. Thirty years of normal inflation withoutrevenue increases would be sufficient to put a serious hurt onthings. Add to that the $9 billion that went to Enron when they gamedCA (still floating around as unpaid bonds), and the current demandsfrom the "Bush boom," and that puts us $20+ billion in the hole (someclaim $40b).

Now we're held captive by Jurassic supply-siders and proto-Reaganites, who will not allow any taxes to be raised--no matter what. I imagine they're smiling inwardly as their dream of destroying government comes to pass.

(* The other thing it did was decouple property taxes from educationfinancing. This drove public education in CA from the top 20 inthe country to the bottom 20.)

Name: Bob Rothman
Hometown: Providence, RI

So nice of Charlie Pierce to recognize T.R. Pearson's A Short Historyof a Small Place. I've always thought of it as an unsung masterpiece,so I'm glad someone is singing of it.

I once heard him at a reading say that Mark Twain was a majorinfluence (he complained that people "keep throwing Faulkner" athim), so I'm sure he'd be pleased that Pierce put him in the samesentence as Mr. Clemens.

Name: David K. Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, AL

Dr. A,

Just because I haven't weighed in with my right wing, neo-fascist,business owner, morally degenerate, polluter opinions recently, do notfor a minute console yourself with notion that I may not be readingevery word. I know you will lose a lot of sleep thinking about that!

I am getting nauseous with the Sotomajor thing. This able andobviously qualified person will be confirmed no matter what theloopier element of the conservative wing of the republican party--lower case intended--tries. Yes, yes there will be some obligatorygrilling at the hearings. After which she will be easily confirmed.

The only thing the looney left is getting out of this is morepunching bag time with wing nuts already thoroughly discredited.

A pleasure to be able to talk with you again.

From the Red States,
Dave Richie

P.S. to Pierce: Ray Nagin wrote a very nice thank you letter to thepeople of Birmingham for our support during the recent unpleasantness. 'Twas a little looney in the Nagin tradition but a very nice gesture from the city you and I love.

Name: Roger H. Werner
Hometown: Stockton, CA

Hi Eric,

I read your ThinkAgain column and while I agreed with virtuallyeverything you say, there is one very important point I think youignored. The right-wing windbags who pontificate with sickeningregularity don't have much of an audience beyond that 28% who stillcling to a dead GOP agenda. Whether Gingrich-Limbaugh-etc. like it ornot, I am not aware of very many people who pay the slightestattention to what these people have to say. I do understand that the "Inside the Beltway Mentality" people remain breathlessat every word the punditocracy says, but in the real world few peopleare paying any attention. Inasmuch as Sotomayor has already beenapproved by the Senate twice, she is very likely to pass muster onceagain and if she does not, those blocking her nomination are going tobe viewed with disdain since there's no justification for such anaction beyond politics and ideology. From where I sit, the citizensand voters of this country are sick to death of both. In any event, Ienjoyed your thoughts on this important matter.

Name: Ann Donahue
Hometown: Shelburne, VT

While I agree with everything Charlie Pierce says about Obama'sresponse to Dr. Tiller's murder, the author of Idiot America (terrific, by the way) should know the so-called dialogue on abortionput forward by the media and our legislative bodies has alreadycreated an equivalence between the violence perpetrated by the anti-choicers and the legal right of women to decide whether or not tohave a child. Abortion itself is regularly described by the anti-choicers as violent and murder and the media and legislators havenot been slow to promote the reasonableness of this absurd position.When legislators vote to interfere with a decision that properlybelongs to a woman and her doctor--whether by restricting late-termabortions, requiring doctors to describe graphically every detail ofthe medical procedure and show a woman pictures of aborted fetuses,or allowing pharmacists to refuse dispensing legal drugs (are vegansallowed to get jobs in delis and then refuse to make thesandwiches?)--they are promoting the argument that abortion is a formof violence and creating a moral equivalency between physicians whoperform a legal medical procedure and those who break the law toprevent it. Obama's attempt to condemn Tiller's murder in the contextof "our [profound] differences as Americans over difficult issuessuch as abortion" unfortunately furthers this meme.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric--

Charlie Pierce may be right about the child narrators he mentions,except in one instance: Twain's child was Huck and only Huck. TomSawyer never narrated anything.

Name: Richard Sattler
Hometown: Missoula, MT

I have to disagree in part with Pierce (always an intimidatingprospect). It is not merely enough to "tell one side of the debate toknock it the hell off." It is long past time to minimally chargegroups like Operation Rescue with aiding and abetting terrorist, justas we have done with a number of Muslim groups. Even better would beto directly classify them as known terrorist organizations. Dr.Tiller's assassin is quite simply a domestic terrorist andorganizations like these are at minimum giving them aid and comfort.Indeed they are directly inciting these terrorists to action, if notgiving them direct support and assistance. We can no longer pretendthat this is an "honest difference of opinion" when one sideroutinely resorts to acts of intimidation and violence.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles

Overall, I am truly amazed by the political insight and execution ofthis particular trip overseas.

1. He visits Saudia Arabia, spiritual home of Islam and meets withthe King, protector of the two most holy Islamic sites (Mecca andMedina). They meet at the King's ranch... shades of Bush bringingstate leaders to his ranch?

2. Visits Cairo, hotbed of radical Islam, home to the proverbial Islamic "street" and one of the oldest continual civilizations onearth, and gives a major speech at a university known for its secularviews, in which he asks the three major parties to peace (Muslims,Jews and Christians) to get over themselves and find common ground.The speech is met with both positive and negative reviews (asexpected), because he knew he wouldn't make everyone happy.

3. The next day he visits Buchenwald with Elie Weisel and the GermanChancellor, reminding everyone that the Jews (who don't like beingblamed for anything going on in the Middle East) are victims in allof this, too. He also confirms his statement of a day before that notonly does Israel have the right to exist, but that the Israelipoliticians, understanding and having lived through holocaust, needto bring real compassion to the table with the Palestinians, not justtheir overbearing arms superiority.

Political masterstroke, and a very Christian thing to do. Blessed bethe peacemakers for they are the sons of God.

I get the feeling watching Obama that he's at least two steps aheadof everyone else. The world is seeing the political skill of the manwho beat the Clinton machine; and Hillary is now at his side.

Brilliant.

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